The Picture Ranch 53
I picked up the ear-piece, and spoke into the candlestick, telling the operator, “San Diego 451”. I didn’t want to, but I needed a favour and I needed it fast.
‘It’s Fisher. You know the Military Academy? Bring something to get rid of two stiffs.’
The voice on the other end of the phone said, “Semper Fi.’
Miss Gräfenberg had put the pea-shooter away and was sitting in the Admiral’s chair behind the desk. She had lit her own cigarette but the ash-tip was growing longer by the second. She was staring through me at I didn’t know what. Waiting for her to snap out of her reverie, I noted that the only part of her body that wasn’t shaking was the hand holding the cigarette. Then Mulvaney moved. I let out a word I didn’t often say in front of dames.
Mulvaney groaned, ‘not right now, Fisher.’
I went over to take a look at his injuries. There was a lot of blood, Miss G had shot off half of his left ear and the bullet had creased his scalp. I couldn’t figure out why he’d been unconscious,
‘You been playin’ possum, Mulvaney?’
‘No, I just can’t stand bloodshed.’ His laugh turned into a cough, but no blood came out of his mouth. I snapped my fingers in front of Eleanor’s face like a vaudeville hypno-act. She jumped as she came out of her trance.
‘What… Are they dead?’
‘One of ‘em is, though you might say the wrong one. Get Mulvaney out to the car. Drag him by the ear he’s got left, if you have to.’
Miss G got up and walked towards Mulvaney, who was now propped up against the front of Fulbright’s desk.
‘And don’t shoot him again, if you want to find your… brother.’
Between us we got the newspaper tycoon to his feet, he did the drunk’s shuffle but steadied up when my client told him she might shoot him anyway. Mulvaney could just about walk, but he wasn’t going to run anywhere. I told them I’d be along as soon as I’d got the mess cleaned up. Then I sat in Fulbright’s chair and rummaged through the desk looking for something to drink.
A half-hour later I’d had two mouthfuls of something sweet and green from a bottle without a label, when the office door swung open and a wiry guy in a USMC dress uniform followed a Government Colt into the room.
‘Whatcha done this time, Fisher?’
‘Not me, Top. A dame did for this guy.’
‘Top? I’m a goddam’ Shitbird, Fisher.’
I hadn’t taken in the Colonel’s insignia on his epaulettes.
‘Yessir, sorry, Sir,’ I couldn’t help it, it just came out.
One-time Top Sgt Houlihan and I went all the way back to Shanghai. There was a cathouse about a mile from the base gates, like there was all over the world and probably still is. The Top and I were looking for a guy who’d gone AWOL a few days earlier. The guy was from my platoon. Top Sgt Houlihan was First Hat on the unit and as such was the real right hand man of the Unit Commanding Officer. Every CO knew there were some jobs where an Adjutant, being an officer, would have no clue. Since ‘they couldn’t find their own asshole, not even with both hands and a diagram’, as Houlihan himself often said.
I was first through the door in the bordello. We were always allowed entry, especially in uniform. I was unarmed, The Top had his Government Colt. Lee came out to meet us. People always think a madam runs these places and they often do, but the boss is always a man. The money always goes to a bad guy, somewhere along the line. Lee was dressed in a black suit with a wing-collar shirt. He must have been hot, but he looked cool enough to freeze water.
‘Gentlemen, are you here for entertainment?’
‘We’re looking for Marine Albert Adams.’ I said.
Lee looked down at some perfectly manicured nails. ‘There are no names here, not for customers, or the girls… Perhaps you could describe him.’
Houlihan snorted. ‘We’ll just go look.’
Adams clearly wasn’t in the salon. Both ratty chaises were empty and there was no-one behind the bamboo bar. To the left of that was a long corridor with doors off to either side. The rooms behind them were naturally not much wider than the doors themselves.
After interrupting 5 bouts of coitus and a couple of other practices which didn’t qualify as such, we opened the fifth door on the right, revealing Adams and a corpse. Her throat hadn’t been slit for very long, the fresh blood on the sheets contrasted with older stains. Adams had the pin of a grenade in his mouth. I saw his hand go up and I floored The Top with a tackle like a Harvard man on the Yale Quarterback. I felt a sharp pain and blacked out.
I had saved The Top’s life and it had cost me my left nut and that’s why he was helping me out.